My niece recently had a birthday, which means I got to pull out the sewing machine and have some fun! This only took me about 30 minutes and $4 to make, so I thought I’d put together a tutorial to share with any fellow crafters out there.

Step 1: Shopping!

Start by buying the shirt of your choice, in whatever size your child wears. I found this one for $4 at Walmart.

Step 2: Reconnaissance

I knew that I wanted to make this dress fit 24 months, so in addition to buying a 24-mos shirt, I also brought a measuring tape to the store, and measured the length of a 24-mos dress from shoulder to hem. This number was my guide for making a dress that fit.

Step 3: Do the Math

After I knew the total length of the dress I wanted to make (see image 2), I just eye-balled how long I wanted the bodice (shirt top) to be, and trimmed the shirt off. Then I decided on the length of each tier of the skirt accordingly.

You can adjust these measurements to your needs, depending on the size of dress you intend to make, but here’s exactly what I did:

24-Month Dress:
*The total length of the dress needed to be 19 inches long.
*I trimmed the shirt to make the bodice 7 inches long, leaving 12 inches of skirt.
*This means that the three tiers of different skirt fabrics needed to be 4 inches each.

STOP! Before you cut, remember that you need to add extra fabric for seam allowance!

BONUS: If your toddler will actually wear a headband (and isn’t Miss Independent like my niece, haha) you can use the bottom portion of the shirt for a headband project. Pinterest has some great tutorials.

Step 4: Choose Your Skirt Fabric

I made the skirt of this dress entirely from scraps leftover from previous projects. That’s why the total cost of my dress was only the cost of the shirt. You need very little fabric to do these tiers, so if you are a sewer/crafter, you may have what you need already.

Other budget-friendly options are:
*Cut up outgrown clothes. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle!
*Purchase clothes from a thrift store to cut up. (Men’s button-down shirts are PERFECT for this type of project, and can usually be found at a thrift store for a dollar or two each.)
*Or, my favourite “hack” when purchasing new fabric is unavoidable, is to take a trip down the bedding aisle. Flat sheets and pillowcases are often sold separately, which means you can get some nice cotton blends in cute patterns for cheaper than going to a fabric store. I often buy pillowcases individually for pillowcase dresses for approx $5 each. You could grab three pillowcases for this project and have enough fabric to make several matching dresses. (Cousin coordination, anyone?)

Step 5: Cut Your Tiers

Again, you can make these tiers any size, depending on the size of dress you are making, but here is exactly what I did for size 24-mos:

I wanted the finished length of each tier to be 4 inches. Allowing for seams, this means that I cut each strip of fabric 4 1/2 inches. (This allowed for a 1/4″ loss on top and bottom when sewing together. This is a fairly small seam allowance because I used a serger. You can make your seam allowance larger, if necessary.)

For width, each tier should be 3″ wider than the tier below it. Start by measuring the width of your shirt, at the cutoff. Add 3″. This the width of your first tier. Add 3″ for your next tier, etc…
This is what this looked like for my 24-month dress:
*The shirt bottom at the cut-off was 10 1/2″
*So the first tier of the skirt was 13 1/2″
*The second tier was 16 1/2″
*The third tier was 19 1/2″

REMEMBER to cut 2x of each tier, so you have a front and back. (Or, cut one piece, double in width, and fold it in half. Then you only need to sew one side seam.)

Step 6: Side Seams

Sew the side seams of each skirt tier individually. I used a serger for this, resulting in a thin, clean finish. Remember to place right-sides together before you sew, so when you turn the fabric right-side-out, the seams are on the inside.

Step 7: Gather Stitch

It’s time to create the ruffles! The quickest and easiest way to do this is with a gather stitch. If you have never done this before, don’t be frightened, it’s super-easy!

A gather stitch is simply sewing a straight line with your sewing machine. The only difference is, you want to make those stitches as long as possible. You do this by adjusting the “length” of the stitch on your machine.

Here, I have moved the “LENGTH” dial all the way to 4. (I usually sew on a 2-3). These stitches will be longer than usual.

Sew a straight line along the TOP of each tier, leaving lots of extra thread when you cut it off the machine. (See image 7) You may already notice that your fabric is pulling together and puckering. This is good. If you need it to be gathered even more, gently tug on the long threads, pulling the fabric tighter together.

The goal is to make the TOP of each tier the same size as the BOTTOM of the tier above it, so they fit together.

Step 8: Attach your First Tier

Remembering to keep right-sides together, sew your first tier onto the bottom of the t-shirt. (I used a serger because I like the clean finish, but it is not required if you do not own a serger.) The puckered/gathered/ruffled edge is the top. (Image 8) You’ll notice that your fabric will balloon out from the top, and become wider at the bottom.

Step 9: Attach your Remaining Tiers

Repeat Step 8 with each tier of your skirt.

Adjust the amount of gather each tier has by tugging on the loose threads, until it fits perfectly with the bottom of the tier above it, then sew together. Remember that the gathered edge is always the top, and that right-sides stay together so that your seams are always on the inside of the dress when its finished.

Step 10: Hem

You’re almost there! Once the final tier is attached, the only remaining thing is to finish off the bottom of your skirt. Fold the raw edge under, and sew a straight seam to create the hem. Done!

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